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Monday, February 26, 2007

Favorite Incense

Just curious. What is your favorite incense?

Mine is Aloeswood (and the Morning Star brand pictured above is my favorite source of all my incense but especially Aloeswood. Other, more pure Aloeswood incense is on the market but be aware that it will cost you a lot of money). Although, the Nag Champa I purchase is from a different company. Anyway, Aloeswood reminds me of my time in Africa. This incense has complex scents to it but one or more of them bring back wonderful memories of wood being burned to fuel fires used to cook food upon. I also like it because it has a deep woodsy scent that is earthy and soothing. It lends itself well to deep relaxation, grounding and balancing during meditation.

Here are my top 5:

1). Aloeswood
2). Nag Champa
3). Sandalwood
4). Lavender
5). Sweet Grass

(Honorable mentions: Patchouli, Sage and Jasmin)

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Moment to Moment

During meditation I settled into my breathing from the abdomen and soon realized that the main attention of my meditation was going to be surrounding non-self and thus interconnection and impermanence as well. A common trio in my meditations.

Immediately I noticed the noise of someone chopping up the ice in their street gutter with some sort of tool and I was transported into their situation and experience of that moment. I experienced the focus and concentration that they must have been feeling while doing this task. Experienced the satisfaction of chopping up the ice so that the water might flow freely away from their house. I experienced their muscles, heart and entire body working harder to accomplish the work. Then I heard a woman's voice talking to the other person about the chore and realized her encouragement and desire to help. In that moment I too was encouraging the person doing the chore.

Soon they finished and except of the occasional whiz of a car--silence returned to the neighborhood.

Then I heard a train off in the distance sound it's horn. In that instant I was with the driver and could feel the vibration of the engine as it slowly and mindfully churned through the intersection. I thought of the joy or maybe stress and frustration the worker was feeling as they moved along in the engine. Realizing their concentration is a meditation no different then the concentration experienced in formal, sitting meditation. I was also with the people waiting in their cars to get moving again when the train passed. Perhaps they were annoyed, angry, peaceful or feeling neutral as they waited. I thought of the family of the train driver that might be reliant upon the workers money received for the job and felt their pride and connection in their working relative.

After a brief time the train's horn blended into the distance of space and time and I was left again with silence.

A short time later an ambulance rang out near by as it sped along to possibly save someone in distress or return to the hospital. I experienced the adrenaline that the medics must have been feeling as they weaved through traffic. I was with the patient in need as they experienced pain and suffering and I held their hand. My other hand held the hand of the loved one that might be waiting in stress and horror as their loved one was in extreme suffering and pain. I breathed with them for a time until the ambulance faded into the distance. I thought of the doctors and nurses waiting at the hospital to work on the person in need of emergency assistance and smiled at their compassion, commitment, service and dedication.

This self blended into the ups and downs and side to side of each of these moments as they blended together like a rainbow in the sky after a rain storm. It was all there. The pain, pleasure and neutral feelings but no attachment to them. Just experiencing them and being apart of those moments. Nothing to do or undo. Nothing to fear and nothing to force. All things unfolding as they would without any stress or desire to try and control the stream of consciousness moving through and along side of this (for lack of a better term) "body."


The picture is of the final product of my Buddha tattoo on my left fore arm. My tattoo guy did a WONDERFUL job with it and I can not help but stare at it through out the day and feel peace and tranquility radiating from the art. Sure it's just a symbol, however, symbols can be very powerful and helpful tools to remind one of the Dharma or a myriad of other pieces of information. Symbols convey ideas and importance without using many words and so they are often offer a more direct path into one's consciousness. Every time I am out and about in the rapid paced, dualistic world and I look upon this tattoo I will be reminded to take a deep breath and return again and again to the present moment of the middle path. As well as reminding me that peace and mindfulness are present and available in any moment of any situation.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Thich Nhat Hanh's Visit to Vietnam 2007

This is only the second time that Thay has returned to his native Vietnam. For decades he was unwelcome in his home country by the communist government.

He is currently still there until May 9, 2007. This trip the Zen master is working to heal the wounds of the Vietnam war and to support the fledgling sanghas in this still communist state.

The remaining wounds of the Vietnam War will be work on by organizing three Great Chanting Ceremonies in the three main cities of Vietnam – Saigon, Hue and Hanoi. The ceremonies will be led by many holy High Monks of each region, to pray for the liberation of the many people who tragically died during the war and after the war. There will be a teaching every day during the Ceremony period so that the understanding and the liberation will be realized in the hearts of the relatives of the deceased people.

Thay is also going to lead many retreats for monastics as well as for lay people in Vietnam.

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Thai Monks Want Buddhism Official Religion of Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand -- A group of Buddhist monks and supporters rallied in front of Parliament Tuesday to demand charter drafters to state that Buddhism is the national religion.

The group of 100 demonstrators is led by Phra Mahacho Thassaniyo of Maha Chulalongkorn Monks University.

The monk said so far over 300,000 Buddhists had signed their name to demand that the next charter would specify Buddhism as the national religion.

He said if the number of signatories would grow over 1 million and he would later submit the names to the Constitution Drafting Committee.

He said if the call was ignored, Buddhists would definitely reject the draft constitution in a public referendum.


This movement seems antithetical to the Buddha's teachings. First, in regards to attachment. Insisting that there be a national religion is attaching to the structure of "religion." It is placing yet another limb into the vast, sticky spider's web of duality.

Declaring a "national religion" is to put the concept of a "religion" higher then even the basic tenets of the religion itself?!! The frame work and labels of a religion are just a shell. Attaching to them is ignoring the meat that are the teachings.

The attitude seems to be, "The majority of people practice "Buddhism" here so it must be better then other religions and therefore lauded to the highest praise and exclusivity." It is not Right View to say that one religion is better then another one. Right View is see things as they are (not as "you" perceive them to be (or want them to be). As we know, all things are impermanent and saying that "Buddhism" be the national religion is trying to make permanent a belief system that teaches impermanence at it's very core!!

Then there is the Buddhist teaching of the middle way. Attaching too much importance too one religion over another is an imbalance that invites undo suffering upon people of other beliefs. It is creating yet another separation between people. Buddhism tries to break down those perceptions of separateness not create more. Separateness that can very easily lead to misunderstandings, anger, social upheaval and ultimately war. A large number of wars in the history of Earth have been fought for "religion."

The current Dalai Lama has often taught the importance of religious pluralism. That not only is it not "Right View" and "Right Action" to convert and shun other believers but that it is also harmful and not in keeping with the fundamental "Buddhist" teachings of compassion, loving-kindness and interconnectivity.

Perhaps some might be shocked that Buddhist monks would have such a warped understanding of the Dharma but it is no different then extremist Christians in America that seek the same exclusivity. Ignoring the teachings of their founder, Jesus, to love one another and not create enmity between people. The same is true of radical Islam. Yes, there IS extremism in Buddhism. People can fall into the trappings of fundamentalist ideology within Buddhism just as easily as any other religion. Extremist, ego-eccentric, dualistic attachment is no respecter of persons or religions.

Even if this move is for honorary reasons it seems silly, hollow and a waste of time, energy and resources.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Gift of Arms

I was walking out of the grocery store today with bags of food in my two arms and remembered how much we do with our arms and hands. I am so very grateful to have two working arms and hands.

Speaking of arms, below are the finished pictures of the dragon sleeve tattoo wrapped around the three jewels in Chinese characters. And below them are the updated Buddha tattoo pictures:

The Buddha tattoo shots below. It's about half way done.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Meditations on No-Self and Change

I just got off the meditation cushion and like after many sessions I have the inspiration to write.

I was meditating upon the teaching of no-self in particular today and after a while I felt this extreme relaxation that sometimes comes when I focus my attention on the lack of an inherent self. This state of calm comes with a feeling of slight floating and a sensation that my body has melted beyond it's frame and merged with the continuous chain of molecules in space and time. I feel as if I am apart of a firm yet flexible wall where I can not tell at what point my body ends and the rest of the world begins. This experience is by no means ever present when I sit and it isn't something to attach too. However, it is always a beautiful, welcome, hands-on lesson in inter-connection and losing oneself into the vast yet comforting ocean of emptiness or no self.

Today is a very windy day and I am enjoying the commotion it has created. I use to become anxious with the wind (as I think I have mentioned here before). It use to anger me because it forced my carefully crafted world of "me" into flux. With mindfulness, however, I have come to welcome it as a visible reminder and agent of change. It helps remind me that change is a good thing. Without the changing winds there would be no seeds scattered to implant in fertile soil. Without the winds of change rain clouds would never empty their liquid beauty upon those seeds to grow into cherished plants to feed us.

I also see wind as symbolic of blowing the toxins of the "self" out of our minds. It is as if it is the very breath of Inter-being blowing away the dualistic boundaries of separateness to scatter our habit energy to be burned away in the freedom of emptiness or no self. Emptiness being liberating because in that state we are no longer bound by the constraints of the ego. Or "self" which seeks to imprison everything and everyone into categories or "jail cells" out of ignorance and fear which ultimately leads to all of our suffering. This example of the prison really helps me understand the beautiful gift of emptiness/no self. Because if I see myself as trapped in a cage (ego self) then I want to do everything to free myself from that cage so that I might reunite with my family and friends (the state of inter-being of the Higher Self). Seeing the freedom in emptiness and change is Right View or Buddha mind. This is because in emptiness we see things as they really are. The blurry glasses have been removed.

What have we to fear if we embrace change as a gift?

I hope some of this makes sense. It does in my head but isn't that where the problems lie in the first place? Ha!!

~Peace to all beings.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Survey in China finds 300 Million Religious Believers

The number of religious believers in China could be three times higher than official estimates, according to a survey reported by state media.

A poll of 4,500 people by Shanghai university professors found 31.4% of people above the age of 16 considered themselves as religious.

This suggests 300 million people nationwide could be religious, compared to the official figure of 100 million.

The survey found that Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Christianity and Islam are the country's five major religions - China considers Catholicism as separate to Christianity, which covers Protestantism.

About 200 million believers "are Buddhists, Taoists or worshippers of legendary figures such as the Dragon King and God of Fortune", the China Daily reported.

The survey also found a significant rise in Christianity - accounting for 12% of all believers, or 40 million, compared with the official figure of 16 million in 2005.

He said the average age of religious believers had fallen, with two-thirds of those in the poll who considered themselves religious aged between 16 and 39.

"This is markedly different from the previous decade, when most religious believers were in their 40s or older," he said in the Chinese-language Oriental Outlook magazine, which published the survey.

James: You just can't keep prevent people from believing what they want to believe. It is like trying to damn up a stream. You may keep a majority of the water blocked but water will still find it's way through cracks and holes in the damn. Water (faith) can brake apart and crumble even the strongest rocks (dictatorships) over time.

In a controlling society one can still find ways to express one's faith. Many believers meet in private homes. However, one does not have to attend an organized sangha, temple, church or group to practice faith. One can easily and effectively pray and meditate in one's everyday tasks and to yourself without anyone knowing what you are engaging in.

It reminds me of Jews that continued to practice their faith in concentration camps whenever and however they could. The suffering only made many stronger and more resolute.

And it seems to me that the more you try to keep people down and under control the more faith increases as people turn to religion for solace, peace and freedom from that control!!

As American president Abraham Lincoln said, "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."


The beginning of my Buddha tattoo below. This is just the outline. The robes will be colored the traditional saffron and the halo in a red blended to orange. The lotus petals will be a pinkish/lavender coloration. The face and hands will be in a greyish tone.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Quotes on Inter-Being

As great as the infinite space beyond is the space within the lotus of the heart. Both heaven and earth are contained in that inner space, both fire and air, sun and moon, lightning and stars. Whether we know it in this world or know it not, everything is contained in that inner space.

-Chandogya Upanishad

As a wave,
Seething and foaming,
Is only water

So all creation,
Streaming out of the Self,
Is only the Self.

Consider a piece of cloth.
It is only threads!

So all creation,
When you look closely,

Is only the Self.

-Ashtavakra Gita 2:4-5

More pictures:

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Monday, February 05, 2007

It's Days Like This

PHOTO: Close-up inside one of the tulips we bought for the altar.

The inner sanctum of this gorgeous flower reminds me of a natural, stained glass window.

It's days like this when one's practice really comes into focus. It's for days like this why I meditate on days when I feel like I'd rather be doing any number of other things. Daily practice is encouraged so that when we have days of despair (liked I've been having the last few days) we have something we can rely on to helps us out.

Every day that we meditate we water the seeds of strength in our store consciousness and keep open the avenues to balance and peace so that when we really need understanding of a difficult moment the pathway to reach that realization is already there. It is like having the training and the experience to know where the steam release valves are located to re-stablize the system.

And part of it (for me at least) is sitting through those difficult moments and accepting them and holding them in my attention. This is what I have been doing in my meditations for the last few days. Today, as I was breathing in I imagined my depression being a stressed, crying baby and I held it with compassion and let it cry out the heavy energy. With each breath in I supported the depression and cared for it. I held myself in the pure light of Avalokiteshvara's compassion that is always present for us to access and benefit from. After awhile doing this guided meditation my body began to relax and my mind lighten and open up to the reality of interconnectivity.

I remembered that I was connected to all things that are loving, caring and happy in that very moment. I heard the uplifting chirping of the birds outside at the feeder and I let that part of me sing with them. I heard the laughter of pure being from the children outside playing on the giant snow banks and laughed with them. I saw the smiles of compassion that my dear mother and wife have for me and all beings and I smiled with them. This inevitably lead me to the refuge of the Buddha and reminded me of my own Buddhanature. It is hard to be depressed when the Buddha is sitting on one side of you and Avalokiteshvara on the other.

It is days like this when the growth occurs.

Other pictures of the fresh tulips :

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Buddhism and God Reposted

Bhikku Ajahn Punnadhammo's blog is a great jewel in Indra's net of the Blanga. Yesterday he posted a very precise and comprehensive essay about Buddhism and the idea of a separate, Supreme "God." I thought it was well done and decided to repost it here (by the way, if you haven't been over to his blog you really need to):

There were some great comments discussing my post on Buddhism and the charge of negativity. In the post, I said I might later say something about Buddhism and the idea of God. Here goes a first attempt.

People who don't know much about Buddhism are often surprised to learn that Buddhism is a religion without a God. Sometimes you hear that Buddhism is actually agnostic on the question and that the existence or otherwise of God is irrelevant to Buddhism. I do not think this is really true. For one thing, the Buddha actually listed belief in a supreme creator as one of the wrong views in the Brahmajala Sutta, Digha 1.

But more essentially, there are several ways the whole concept of a creator God is antethical to Buddhist thought.

1. It would contradict the anatta doctrine. (no-self) God is a kind of supreme being, a big self. One quite logical extension of the monotheist idea is found in the Upanishads where it is taught that Brahma equals Atman. That means, not only is God a self, but he is the one and only self. Buddhism taught that even this universal self is empty; all is sunya, void and nothing exists from it's own side. This Buddhism idea of voidness cannot be sustained if one postulates a God who is an essential reality.

2. It would contradict the anicca doctrine (impermanence) Just as God is a big self, he is also neccessarily conceived as everlasting (in most versions, in both directions "before Abraham was I am") If anything or anyone can exist eternally, then impermanence is false.

3. It contradicts the core axiom of the dependent origination; everything arises according to causes and conditions and not otherwise. In other words, no arbitrariness in the universe. God, as the First Cause and the Prime Mover is essentially arbitrary. There is no cause for God, nor does he have antecedents, nor need there be reasons for his actions.

The whole philosophical reason for wanting a God is to explain origins, but it is not really an explanation at all. The child's question, "Well then where did God come from?" cannot be answered. It is true that Buddhism has no explanation for ultimate origination. In fact, the Buddha said this was an "unanswerable" or meaningless question. While I don't think that the Buddha himself ever said so explicitly, later Buddhist thought has generally assumed that the universe is beginingless.

This is not such an impossible concept. Why must there have been a beginning? It is only to satisfy the limits of human imagination, and has nothing to do with the real world "out there." If we imagine any moment, arbitrarily far back into the past, can we not imagine a preceding moment? Indeed, musn't we?

Nor is Buddhist, strictly speaking, polytheistic. There are gods aplenty in Buddhist cosmology, but they are always explained as beings like us, impermanent forms in a shifting samsaric existence. They are not "gods" in the sense of ultimate beings at all.

However, Buddhism is not really atheistic either, if by that we assume as is usual, the implication of a materialist world-view. Buddhism does have a concept of the Transcendental (Lokuttara) or Supramundane. An absolute, if you will. That is the Nibbana-Dhatu (nirvana element) which is outside time and space, has nothing to do with being or non-being, causation or conditionality and is quite incomprehensible by the ordinary rational mind.

The idea of Nibbana separates Buddhism from materialist philosophies of all kinds, but it would hardly satisfy a theist looking for some equivalent to a personal, intervening God. There may be some approaches to this idea of the absolute in some versions of theistic thinking. I am thinking of the apophatic theology of Eastern Orthodoxy or the Veils of the Unmanifest in Qabbalah. But one thing that has always attracted me to Buddhism, and to Theravada in particular, is the purity and rigour of it's conception of the ultimate.

~Peace to all beings~

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